On day 46 of the Olympic torch’s 100-day relay across Canada, Kingston will take the coveted role of opening up its streets to the Olympic entourage as it makes its way from coast to coast to coast.
The city’s been here before. As the brief capital of early Canada, Kingston’s been a fixture during both of the past Olympic torch relays in Canada, the first being in 1976 for the Montreal summer games and the second in 1988 for the Calgary winter games. And with this torch relay set to be the longest in Olympic history, Kingston was not to be forgotten.
Kingston City Councillor Dorothy Hector, chair of the City’s committee for the Olympic Torch Relay, said that with athletics and sports like hockey and football being so prevalent in Kingston, an event like this is sure to be popular among residents. The last relay drew a crowd of 8000 in front of Kingston City Hall.
“Olympism is big in this city so we’re really hoping to capitalize on that and people will come out,” Hector said. “It’s the ideals that we’re supportive of. It’s fair competition.”
The torch is going to start its tour at Fort Henry Hill and head past Royal Military College, where it will stop and pay dues to the cadets who fell during the First World War. Then it will head across Ontario St. to City Hall and West St. to the Sir John A. MacDonald statue.
The torch is scheduled to arrive at Springer Market Square, by City Hall, at 7 p.m. At that time there will be a welcome speech by the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) and entertainment provided by Olympic Torch Relay sponsors Coca Cola and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).
Leading up to the torch’s arrival at Springer Market Square there will be a variety of community entertainment, including dance performances by the Katarakwi dancers, an aboriginal group, and various musical performances. Hector won’t reveal exactly who the performers are or what they’re going to be doing because the event is meant to be a surprise, she said. The event at Market Square is going to embody everything that’s special about the Olympics.
“We’re trying to treat the event at Market Square as if it were the Opening Ceremonies themselves,” she said. “So there is an element of secrecy.”
Hector said the committee deliberately tried to involve every part of the community in an effort to make the event benefit the community first and foremost.
“We’ve tried to reach out to all parts of the city—French, aboriginals, you name it, list them all off and we included them. They’re all really eager to get involved,” she said. “Really we want to make it a community event and a community entertainment.”
One featured performance at the square is the live creation of art onstage, which is taking place at every city hosting the torch relay. As the relay progresses, a massive painting is created and every place leaves their legacy on the torch through the art.
The creation of the painting can be viewed on the web all throughout the relay.
Hector said the timing of the event may lead to fewer people coming out since it’s on a Monday night, but she’s optimistic that there will be a crowd.
“Everyone is welcome, it’s free, it’s no cost. It’s just come and be entertained and get ready for the coming of the Olympics,” she said.
The torch will leave from Portsmouth Olympic Harbour at 7 a.m. the next day on December 15. From there it will move on to nearby Trenton, where Queen’s very own Siavash Kallaghi, a second-year MASc student in electrical and computer engineering, will complete a 300 metre leg of the relay.
Kallaghi got the opportunity to participate in the relay by entering an RBC contest as a fluke. When he found out he won he initially wasn’t excited, but after reading the email, it hit him that he would be an Olympic torchbearer, he said.
“At first I wasn’t surprised but when I got what it was saying I was like, ‘Oh, holy,’” he said. “I’m sure there’s not that many people who can say, ‘I ran the Olympic torch when I was 23.’ It’s a big thing.”
Kallaghi said he wishes he was carrying the torch in Kingston rather than Trenton so more of his friends would come, but the University is making a great effort to support him.
The department of electrical and computer engineering is organizing a bus for fellow students and faculty to come out to Trenton and watch his shining moment.
Kallaghi said he likes the spirit of sportsmanship celebrated in the Olympics and how it brings people together from all over the world. It’s the unification of all the world’s nations that makes the Olympics a worthy event.
“All of these people from all over the world—different countries, different cultures, different customs—they come together. It’s not actually about winning the medals; it’s about bringing the nations together.
“I know there are a lot of people who hate the Olympics out of political reasons, or aren’t fond of the way the Olympics are being run but I think the concept as a whole is a positive thing,” Kallaghi said.
Coming from Iran, Kallaghi said he has experienced some prejudice and name-calling around Kingston, especially around the time of the Iranian election.
He said he hopes the attention he’s gotten from this event and the unifying power of the Olympics will make people see him, and all Middle Eastern people, in a better light.
“When anyone sees international people, Middle Eastern people, or Iranians being successful, being like an athlete, being a movie star, being exposed in the media, that helps see the fact that we’re normal people, we’re not terrorists,” Kallaghi said.
When asked how he thinks he’s going to feel on the day of the torch relay, Kallaghi’s answer was less sentimental and more pragmatic.
“Cold. It’s December 15,” he said. “Well, cold and then warm.”
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